Tyranny of the Self-Righteous “Liberal”

June 18, 2014

Toni Collette as Fiona, "Ms. Granola Suicide," in movie About A Boy (2002), screen shot, June 18, 2014. (http://hotmovies.com via Universal). Qualifies as fair use - low resolution picture is personification of topic (self-righteous liberal).

Toni Collette as Fiona, “Ms. Granola Suicide,” in movie About A Boy (2002), screen shot, June 18, 2014. (http://hotmovies.com via Universal). Qualifies as fair use – low resolution picture is personification of topic (self-righteous liberal).

More and more, I’ve tired of folks who proclaim that because they’ve finally “seen the light” on a particular niche or chic liberal issue, that their view is not only the right and only one. Anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their perspective is the enemy, a sap in support of the destructive forces of capitalism, a person whose individual actions will destroy the world.

That most — but not all, of course — of these people are White liberals isn’t exactly a surprise. This first occurred to me a quarter-century ago, when, as a Pitt undergrad, students active in environmentalism were going around campus asking us to donate time, money and signatures to stop Brazil from tearing down their Amazonian rain forests. Though I understood that we needed to process as much oxygen as our bodies would allow (and pull as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as possible), I also thought, “where the heck do we get off telling Brazil what to do?”

Brazil was and still is a leader in Global South economic development, with massive inequalities to boot. After two and a half centuries of virtually unchecked economic and industrial growth at the expense of the environment, though, where did we as Americans have the right to tell people in other countries to slow or halt their economic development? After exploiting the riches, resources and peoples of the world, where did these do-gooders get off telling other countries that they ‘d have to find a slower way to deal with poverty, or to not exploit their own resources?

An aerial picture of an area of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil, September 9, 2009. (Felipe Menegaz via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0/GNU.

An aerial picture of an area of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil, September 9, 2009. (Felipe Menegaz via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0/GNU.

I would get into the occasional argument about this very White, very un-liberal liberal way of thinking. One where we’d get to keep our modern development while countries like Brazil were supposed to languish in the Third World box we and Europe built for them. Of course, the do-gooders would argue back at me, telling me that I wanted to destroy the environment and make the air unhealthy for our future kids and grandkids to breathe. As far as they were concerned, keeping the Global South poor and exploitable was our only chance at beating back global warming and species destruction.

It’s not any different today with issues like food justice, gun control and safety, and drug policy (and for some, religion). I have a Facebook friend who has become more belligerent about promoting veganism and condemning us so-called meat-eaters (technically, humans are omnivores) over the past half-decade. The issue for him couldn’t just be about agribusinesses and their gross abuse of the land, of crops and of domesticated animals, their control and degradation of much of the world’s food supply. No, it’s about individuals making choices that empower these massive corporations instead of going to an organic farm or farmers market or choosing to turn away from all animal proteins for the sake of their bodies or to curtail climate change.

I have no problems with vegans or veganism (I’ve tried it myself on occasion) or with fighting Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto and ConAgra. I do have a problem with the myopic thinking that people like my Facebook friend have in attacking individuals. It’s such a ’70s liberal way of confronting a huge issue. Not to mention a very White and elitist perspective. Fact is, a truly healthy and well-rounded vegan diet is an expensive one, as the federal government doesn’t subsidize vegan products like it does agribusiness. In a nation like the US, with a shrinking middle class and growing inequality, to expect every individual to stop shopping at Walmart and eating Big Macs in exchange for the organic farm and lentils is arrogant and wholly unrealistic.

There’s no way I’d tell my Facebook friend all this. I’d get argued down as if I were attempting to spread a superflu across the planet. And it wouldn’t be a rational argument either. But then again, it’s okay for White liberals to be irrational in their arguments, especially when it’s in defense of the planet!

ConAgra Foods logo, June 18, 2014. (http://innovate.unl.edu/).

ConAgra Foods logo, June 18, 2014. (http://innovate.unl.edu/).

There’s also irony around gun control and safety and drug policy. When it’s so-called Black-on-Black crime, or a drive-by in New York or Chicago, those meet White liberal expectations. When it’s Columbine or Newtown or Santa Barbara, involving White-on-White crime, then it becomes time for more mental health screenings and more gun control. When heroin and crack cocaine found their way into poor Black and Latino communities in the ’70s and ’80s, we needed tougher drug laws to lock away “the animals” and “thugs.” Now that crystal meth and heroin have made their ways into White-middle-class suburbia, it’s now time to decriminalize some drug possessions and legalize marijuana. But no contradictions there!

A big part of the problem with everyday White liberalism is the idea that individuals and their individual decisions will add up to a groundswell of societal change. Yet how can you change the world if you’re not willing to sacrifice the structures that exploit others who aren’t White and middle class, who don’t live in America or in some suburban cul-de-sac? But go ahead, keep on keeping on with your non-GMO, organic vegan tuna salads made of soybeans and carrots while yelling at the rest of us impoverished shlubs to get with the program!


Half Truths, Whole Foods

March 15, 2012

Whole Foods entrance, Downtown Silver Spring, MD, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

Well, at least as far as the Silver Spring Whole Foods store is concerned. After eleven and a half years, I’ve decided to no longer shop at this Whole Foods location.

Now, knowing me, you might think it’s because of Whole Foods’ neo-con founder, who somehow doesn’t believe in universal health care or worker’s rights. Or maybe it’s because Whole Foods’ distribution practices of shipping in coffee from Colombia and olive oil from Lebanon, Greece and Italy isn’t exactly good for the workers in those countries, not to mention the environment and my wallet. Or it’s because I see the ways in which the Silver Spring Chamber (of Secrets) of Commerce has warped Downtown Silver Spring into a pedestrian’s nightmare, of national chain businesses with primacy over downtown residents.

Parking lot area for Whole Foods-Silver Spring, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Strosnider's, CVS, about 80% full, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

But it’s none of those important and oft-thought-about issues for me. I still plan to shop at other Whole Foods stores in the DC area, albeit much more rarely than before. It comes down to two simple issues: inconvenience and customer service. We live three blocks away from the Silver Spring Whole Foods, and so it’s actually easier to walk there to shop than to drive there. But if I happen to be doing a combination shop, where I often hit two or three stores to buy about $120 in groceries on a Saturday or Sunday, that means using the Honda Element, which also means that there’s no way for me to park anywhere near the store.

This isn’t just on the weekends. Even on the days I’ve walked over, whether after work, after dropping Noah off at school, or at the end of the day, the parking area looks as if folks are preparing for a Nor’easter. I’ve actually seen customers get into actual fights over a parking space. It’s that crowded and chaotic there.

The store itself often has looked like the parking lot over the years. Lots of entitled people walking lazily down aisles, as if Whole Foods rented the space out to them for the afternoon, all while stepping in front of you for an item on the shelf without saying “Excuse me,” stepping on my foot for good measure. Or of beleaguered Whole Foods staff members in the meat, fish, deli and bakery departments, often with the weary look of waiters working at some country club, all while attempting to meet the whimsical expectations of the privileged class of customers before them.

But it’s the actual responses of the folks who work there now that’s been most disgusting.Two months ago, a cashier with name tag “Tai” rang up my groceries at the Silver Spring Whole Foods. I was left with my reusable bags while quickly trying to slide my debit card, enter my information and pay for groceries. When I had a second to try to hand Tai my grocery bags, she didn’t take them, and started with another customer as she handed me my receipt, bags in hand and no groceries bagged.

When I asked, “Are you gonna help me bag?,” Tai said “You holding the bag.”

“What, do I have to ask for you to bag?,” I then asked.

“Duh!,” Tai said with a pause. All while begrudgingly bagging the last of my groceries.

“This kind of treatment is ridiculous, and your attitude’s unacceptable,” I said, ready to beat her up in an alternate universe.

I tweeted this incident to Whole Foods Montgomery County that same day. No response. I emailed the Silver Spring Whole Foods management about the incident the following day. No response. So I boycotted the store for over a month. Only to shop there last week and have some cashier tell me to take my headphones off after I had already said no to giving money to a Whole Foods charity. Headphones, by the way, which were never on to begin with.

Side of Whole Foods-Silver Spring adjacent to Courtyard by Marriott on Fenton, March 14, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins).

This was hardly what the Silver Spring Whole Foods was like when it opened on September 6, ’00. Then, the management and the staff seemed overjoyed to provide their services. Now, it’s as if they believe that they are the only game in town, as if my money has to go into their cash registers. In other words, it’s like shopping at a really expensive version of CVS.

I’ve been to Whole Foods’ from the Union Square one in New York to others in the DC area, in Atlanta, in other parts of the country. I’ve never been treated as if I didn’t matter except at the Silver Spring store. Apparently the smugness of the corporation that is Whole Foods and the entitlement that is the Whole Foods shopper has also infected the Whole Foods staff at the Silver Spring location. The truth is, I had put up with a bit of the first two for years, but the truth is, I should’ve never put up with any of it. So, I’m out and I’m gone.


Another Day In Paradise

June 17, 2010

Source: Virgin, Atlantic, WEA. The image is used as the primary means of visual identification of the article topic.

A little more than twenty years ago, Phil Collins (no relation) released the first song from his …But Seriously album, “Another Day In Paradise.” In the context of the times, it was part of a series of pop music songs that sought to arouse a social justice consciousness in the late-’80s, to stem the “Greed is good” culture that had evolved during the Reagan Years. Though overwrought and a bit like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer, “Another Day In Paradise” — a song about homelessness in America — was the final #1 hit of the ’80s, and the first one of the ’90s as well.

That song has as much relevance today as it did twenty and a half years ago, and not just with the issue of homelessness. The current BP oil deluge crisis, the manipulation of the housing market, our growing personal and national debt, even the tampering with our food by corporate giants like Tyson, Monsanto, and Con-Agra. All fall into the paradigm of a society faced with ills of its own making yet in nearly complete ignorance of its own participation in these disasters. Our addiction to oil is stronger than any individual’s addiction to crack cocaine or crystal meth. The housing market and our net debtor status reflects greed run amok and nearing the speed of light. And the food crisis — with the obesity and health crisis it has created — is an indication that our narcissism and greed knows no bounds.

Progressives and others on the left — people even more left than me — tend to act as if these corporations aren’t affected by their own evil decisions and policies, that the ills that they have created will only affect our adult children and grandchildren. In fact, that’s how our representatives in government talk as well. But, as we are seeing with the pictures of oil and mud-soaked pelicans and turtles, that’s simply not true. What’s been happening to our environment, energy, food and economy affects all of us, rich and poor, now, not in twenty or fifty years, but now.

The rich can and do clean up the crap that affects us all better than we can because they have the money to do so. But they still breathe the same polluted air, eat the same GMO foodstuffs — especially if they run Monsanto and Con-Agra — and drink the same contaminated water that we drink. They’re just too rich and ignorant to realize that we’re all in the same rickety boat, and that with each windfall profit, their putting the nails in their own coffins too.

The lyrics to Phil Collins’ song go something like this at the end:

You can tell from the lines on her face
You see that she’s been there
Probably been moved on from every place
Cause she didn’t fit in there

Except the “she” in the way I see these lyrics today isn’t a homeless woman. It’s the riches of our planet, as we rape and torture it into what we hope is submission, ignoring the signs that the consequences for our greed are already too high for us to pay. Our paradise world has already been turned into a living hell for millions all over the world — from half-century-long oil spills in Nigeria (see In Nigeria, Oil Spills Are a Longtime Scourge – NYTimes.com ) to the half a million victims of the Union Carbide toxic gas leak in Bhopal, India in ’84. With Katrina in ’05 and this BP disaster this year, maybe this is only our procrastination, incompetence, narcissism and greed chickens coming home to roost.


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